Five Questions on Discipleship: (4) How Do You Make Disciples?

As a sophomore in college, I was introduced to a little book called The Master Plan of Evangelism. After an eight week study with our Campus Crusade leadership team, I was convinced that Jesus’ pattern of disciple-making and spiritual multiplication is the way to do ministry.  More than ten years later I am still convinced.

In his book, Robert Coleman outlines eight steps for making disciples: Selection, Associatin, Consecration, Impartation, Demonstration, Delegation, Supervision, and Reproduction).  If you have not read Coleman’s insightful little book, get it today.  All the hype about The Trellis and The Vine a few years ago was simply a helpful reformulation of The Master Plan of Evangelism.

And Coleman is not alone in looking to Jesus for methods of disciple-making.  More than one-hundred years ago Scottish pastor and professor A.B. Bruce wrote the lengthy treatment The Training of the Twelve, in which he scoured the pages of Scripture to see how Jesus trained his disciples and this is what he had to say,

These twelve . . . were to be something more than travelling companions or menial servants of the Lord Jesus Christ. They were to be . . . students of Christian doctrine, and occasional fellow-laborers in the work of the kingdom, and eventually Christ’s chosen trained agents for propagating the faith after He Himself had left the earth.  From the time of their being chosen . . . they were to learn, in the privacy of intimated daily fellowship with their Master, what they should be, do, believe, and teach, as His training of these men was to be a constant and prominent part of Christ’s personal work (p. 30).

Following in the footsteps of Jesus, how should we make disciples? Let me suggest three commitments that are required for being a disciple-maker.


You cannot invest in everyone, so you need categories for making decisions on how you will use your precious, limited time. While you should never reject anyone in need, when it comes to making disciples, you should prioritize those who Faithful, Available, Teachable–otherwise known as FAT people.

Faithful.  Paul instructed his faithful disciple to find faithful disciples.  In 2 Tim 2:2, Paul said, “What you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.”  With great wisdom, Paul did not say, “Go chase down the sheep that are running away.”  He told Timothy to invest his life in “faithful men” who are able to reproduce themselves.  As you focus on the faithful, the fleeing will be found.

So too Jesus was selective in his disciple relationships (Mark 3:13-19). While we should love everyone, we should be strategic in the way we reach out to others.  If you are making disciples, you will have closer relationships with some and not others.  Look for the faithful ones!  Be a faithful one.

Available.  There are lots of sincere people who have good intentions to know God, but when push comes to shove, there are very few who are available.  Many start off strong, but the weeds of the world enslave them.  Busyness erodes faithfulness, and their schedules limit availability.  But a good disciple is one who is not enslaved to sports, family, work, school, hobbies, or sleep.  They may be deeply invested in these things–and should be–but they are carving out time and making themselves available.

Focus on those who available more than those who are able.  Take a lesson from Jesus.  He did not choose the powerful, well-off, or important people.  He invested in those who heeded his call.  He discipled those who would follow him.  One way to test this is to call people to hard tasks.  Don’t lower the bar on discipleship.  Like Jesus, make the call challenging and see who is left.  These are the ones to disciple.

Teachable.  In Matthew 7, Jesus warns us of throwing pearls before pigs.  This strange statement is essential for understanding disciple-making.  You have a short span of life.  Use it well.  Invest your time and energy well.  Don’t throw your energy at those who are unwilling to be taught.  Focuse on those who are submissive to God’s word.  Christopher Adsit, founder of Disciple-Makers International, is helpful: “Most of us are poverty-stricken when it comes to time. It’s a foolish extravagance to squander precious time teaching a person something he will never apply or pass on! It’s pearls before swine.”


There is no substitution for just getting out and doing the work, but as you disciple be sure to include three key elements.

Time.  Discipleship is not complicated.  It is time-consuming, but not complicated.  Do life with other, younger believers in Christ.  Invite them into your home, into your families.  And as you walk through life talk about Christ.  Ask questions about God.  Read the Bible.  Pray.  Discuss a book together.  Serve together.

Truth.   Discipleship is only Christian in as much as the gospel is present.  Christians spending time together is not discipleship.  It must have intentionality, and more than that it must be infused with biblical truth.  It can look like a regimented Bible study, a weekly time of Bible reading and discussion, or bi-monthly commitment to do evangelism.  It can also be less formal.  But whatever it is, it must center around Jesus Christ.

This is what Jesus did.  With a band of disciples, he preached, ministered, and made his way in and order Palestine all the while teaching his disciples about what he was doing.  Paul did the same thing.  Everywhere he went, he was taking Timothy, Titus, Silas, or other young men.  He gave them a model to follow and truth to learn.

Johnny Hunt is right when he says that every Christian needs a Paul, Timothy, and a Barnaba—a Paul to disciple us, a Timothy to disciple, and a Barnabas to encourage us. Personally, I consider it a failure, if I am doing ministry by myself.  I want to do everything with someone else, because I want to pass what I have learned to others.

Training.  Truth revolves around the gospel.  Training revolves around practical applications of ministry.  In church contexts, this means older men and women teaching younger men and women, respectively, the skills of ministry.  This could look like learning how to drive the bus route, preparing a funeral meal, teaching a Sunday School lesson, sharing the gospel, or planning a mission trip.

Every person in a ministry position should be looking and preparing there replacement.  Passing the baton is a necessary part of ministry.  The alternative is a latent self-centeredness that places all the weight of ministry on an individual.  When that individual leaves, dies, or moves, the work of that ministry goes with them.  By contrast, leader who trains another generation prolongs the work of the Lord for the edification of the local body of believers.

But this raises a serious question: Are you worthy of imitation? Paul constantly pointed to himself as a one who sought Christ, and he said, as he followed Christ, you could follow him.  Can you say the same thing?  Disciple-makers must first be genuine and growing disciples.  If you cannot call someone to imitate you why not?  What would it take to become a model disciple?  What is keeping you from growing in that way?

Do not be Charles Barkley Christian, who denied his role as a role model. If you are a Christian, you are a role model.  If you have taken the name of Jesus Christ, you are now one of his witnesses.  Witness him well.

Help those who come behind you by giving time, truth, and training.


Modeled Demonstration.  When Jesus called the twelve, he called them to be with him.  Long before sending them out, he called them simply to follow, listen, learn.  They observed their Master in action, and when it was their time to lead they had years of experience to learn from.  Jesus was the model.  So too commanding others to do something, you should show them how.  And not just once–many times.

I was in conversation the other day with a family who after their conversion was immediately thrown into ministry.  Sadly, today they are having to pull back from ministry to retool their personal lives. Why?  They were too hastily thrown into ministry.  We need to be slower to commission, and quicker to model.  As church leaders we need to avoid the gap theory, where we see a gap and find a guy or gal to fill it.  Instead, we need to be people oriented, putting good people in places, instead of simply finding a warm body to fill a need.

Measured Delegation.  Following demonstration, Jesus’s disciples were called to action.  In his presence, the disciples were enlisted to baptize, they were sent out two-by-two, they were given errands.  In Jesus presence, the disciples tried and failed.  He gave them tasks and missions, that he could then use to teach and correct them.  This is wise strategy for parenting, pastoring, and for disciple-making.

It requires more than barking orders.  It requires that you know those whom you are giving spiritual leadership—their gifts, passions, abilities, and readiness.  It also means that we should be modeling for others everything we expect them to do.  Too often we move straight from instruction to delegation, without demonstration and supervised evaluation.

The result of activity without evaluation is a generation of workers who do more harm than good.  Imagine a surgical doctor given all the tools of the trade without years of residency.  The same is true with soul doctors, disciples, who are called to encourage and edify other Christians.  Just as doctors need training and correction in their surgical techniques, so disciples need the loving, hope-giving, correction of older Christians to help them grow into Sunday School teachers, small group leaders, outreach coordinators, and deacons.

All in all, the Great Commission is a vision for church ministry that never grows old.  It calls us to simply make disciples.  This is goal worthy of our entire attention, and it is a process that takes years to develop.  May we consider some of these priorities listed above, and go forward looking to find disciples who are FAT, with whom we can share life and the gospel, and who are willing to observe and receive correction as they become disciple-makers themselves.

May God give us great aid as we seek to make disciples, dss